PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe: 12 February 2010 - Austin, TX

Greg M. Schwartz

Denson blends the classic jazz skills of Branford Marsalis with the funk sensibility of Maceo Parker, bringing together the best of both worlds.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

City: Austin, TX
Venue: La Zona Rosa
Date: 2010-02-12

It's another Friday night in the live music capital of the world and one of the funkiest bands in the cosmos has touched down in Austin for what promises to be an early highlight of the 2010 concert year. Whether it's with the Greyboy Allstars or his Tiny Universe, saxman Karl Denson can always be counted on to get the good times rolling. A pioneer of the acid-jazz genre for well over a decade now, Denson has solidified his position as one of the premiere sax players on the planet. Denson blends the classic jazz skills of Branford Marsalis with the funk sensibility of Maceo Parker, bringing together the best of both worlds.

The band has been booked into the perfect venue for this show, with La Zona Rosa offering the necessary space for the assembled to have some elbow room while getting their groove on. Antone's or Stubbs indoor room would be too small, but La Zona Rosa is just right. The Greyhounds, a local funky institution of their own, warm things up with an hour long set that gets the party started. Guitarist Andrew Trube, keyboardist Anthony Farrell and a rotating drummer play a weekly residency at the Continental Club's upstairs Gallery room, so it's interesting to see them stretching out in a full size club. Farrell's soulful crooning on Hall and Oates' “Sara Smile” turns what some might consider a fairly cheesy old pop tune into a gem. The band is clearly skilled at re-arranging classic tunes, as further evidenced by a turbo-charged version of “Whiskey River” that closes the set by putting a fresh new swing on the Willie Nelson classic.

When the Tiny Universe hits the stage, an early bonus is immediately evident as Chris Stillwell from the Greyboy Allstars is on bass. There's just something special about Stillwell's dynamic rhythmic attack that puts a little extra bounce in every groove. Fist bumps and high fives are exchanged amongst the crowd. The band gets going early with the appropriately titled “Funky Song”, with Denson's vocals referencing a Sherlock Holmes mystery. “There's something going on,” sings Denson and indeed there is – a groovy dance party.

“Freedom”, from the band's superb 2002 album The Bridge, cranks the energy up higher as the band lays down one of their patented tunes of tightly layered funk. Unlike the Greyboy Allstars, the Tiny Universe adds trumpet player Chris Littlefield into the mix, conjuring extra jazz flavor. Ace guitarist Brian Jordan and keyboardist David Veith provide superb accents to the groove laid down by Stillwell and drummer John Staten as the tune builds in expert fashion. Denson's lyrics about personal liberation match perfectly with music that follows George Clinton's classic maxim of “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Denson also adds a sweet flute solo toward the end, showing off yet another skill from his diverse bag of tricks.

The groovy goodness continues in “Dance Lesson”, with Denson leading the band through a jazzier yet still highly danceable number that features a succession of solos that come off like a gold medal run from an Olympic relay team. Denson goes first, delivering an extended sax solo that explores every sector of the groove. Jordan then throws down a smoking solo, tearing up the fretboard of his semi-hollow body guitar before passing the baton to Stillwell for a trumpet solo that lights up the night. Then it's over to Veith for an electric organ solo that brings it home before the whole band returns to the original theme.

Denson digs deep on “Mighty Rebel”, one of the best cuts from the band's latest album, 2009's Brother's Keeper. The mid-tempo groove features some reggae and afro-beat vibes, along with uplifting lyrics with lines like “A rebel in a world falling apart / You know you've got to rise up / The war has begun / To fight back is the only solution / And love is a gun.” The slower beat gives fans a chance to catch their breath a bit, while still keeping things ever-funky. But then the band shifts suddenly into a dissonant and exploratory section that recalls the seminal psychedelic fusion of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. The horn lines seem to be winding through some sort of trippy cosmic wormhole, before coming out the other end and landing in an up-tempo groovy jam that gets the whole room moving again.

It looks like it's just going to be one highlight after another as the band proceeds into “The Answer”, another deep but still swinging groove with Denson singing about how he can never get enough of “That funky stuff.” Stillwell introduces the next tune as a cover of The Yardbirds' “I'm Not Talking”, a surprising bust-out which delivers yet another highlight as the band motors through the high-energy Brit-rock classic. Jordan shines, stepping up and stepping out with a shredding yet tasty solo to lead a great old school jam. The fun just keeps flowing as Denson then introduces “Grenadiers” as a tune from an old Russ Meyer flick. “It's very entertaining if you like large breasted women,” Denson chuckles. The tune has some cinematic flavor, but you better believe it's still funky.

The set is nearing the 90-minute mark now and when the band launches into their epic classic “The Bridge”, it becomes evident that this will be a one-set show. It's perfectly understandable considering the circumstances. While Denson is known as “The king of the late-night throwdown,” the band is scheduled on following evening for what will surely be just that – a co-headlining gig with longtime cohorts Galactic at Tipitina's in New Orleans, a show that will celebrate both Mardi Gras and the Saints' historic Super Bowl win.

No one is complaining about the one-set show though, because KDTU is bringing pure heat throughout the entire set. “The Bridge” is a showcase featuring everything that makes the band the dynamic force it is – Denson's inspiring lyrics, the mighty groove machine of the rhythm section, the funkalicious guitar of Jordan, the psychedelic organ of Veith, the tight horn lines, and the superb improvisations.

The group closes out the show with two more winners from the new album, “Shake It Out” and “Brother's Keeper”. The first is a straight-up party number that can't fail to light a fire, while the latter is a longer and more soulful number harkening back to early '70s influences. The tune provides a strong finish, as the band flows through a series of changes and another jam over the big groove with Denson and Littlefield still blowing as strong as when the night began. Afterward, it's extremely tempting to want to hit the road to New Orleans for that next show.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.